Who’s Afraid of Loren Seagrave — not me (Barry Ross)

Not everyone agrees with Loren Seagrave’s sprint mechanics that I highlighted in my first post.  One of the most vocal opponents is famed strength coach Barry Ross.  And today his most claim-to-fame athlete Allyson Felix,  won the 200m at the Olympic Trials, setting a new PR of 21.69 and becoming the fourth fastest woman of all time.  It only seemed appropriate to highlight his ideas.

First, however, I need to clarify that Barry is not her current strength coach.  Nor was he ever her sprinting coach.  Barry was her high school strength coach.   Her high school sprint coach is Wes Smith and her current coach is legend Bobby Kersee.  Regardless, Ross was her high school strength coach and she did run a blistering 22.11 while in high school!!!  So, Ross deserves major “props”.

I must admit, I haven’t read his eBook “Underground Secrets to Faster Running”, but I have read much of his blog Bearpowered and his article “The Holy Grails of Speed Training” and he makes a lot sense.  Moreover, you have to respect someone who doesn’t shy away from controversy (and perhaps brings it on).  A couple posts to that tune: one about Bobby Kersee and one about Younger Technique Guru (not sure who he’s referring to).

Before outlining some of Ross’ methodologies, I wanted to support one thing he brings up about Kersee’s quotes in Stack Magazine.  

“Right now, Allyson doesn’t have the body she needs,” Kersee says. “So I have extended her hypertrophy phase a lot longer to increase her body size more than strength. In high school, she wasn’t lifting properly, because she used heavier weights to add strength and power, but her frame wasn’t big enough. We are working to increase her lean body mass, then add power and strength to that larger frame.  Since mass, force and acceleration are all tied together, her increased mass and greater force at the proper angles will mean much better acceleration.”

Improved acceleration in the beginning of her race is a major goal of Allyson and Kersee. “Her velocity and maintenance are as good, if not better than anyone in the world,” Kersee says. “So anything we gain by increasing her upfront acceleration will be a net gain at the end of the race. We are eventually going to get her 100 under 11 seconds.”

Ross’ questions Kersee’s comments about mass, force and acceleration, even to the point where he says “unless he [Kersee] was misquoted.”  Ross is 100% right to question Kersee here.  It doesn’t make any sense.  I spent years studying astrophysics (and some biomechanics) in grad school, so I know a bit about Force = Mass x Acceleration.  To think that adding more mass will magically create more force  makes absolutely no sense.  It doesn’t even pass the idiot test.  Just think of it this way, say you can run X fast, so your steps are imparting Y Force against the ground.  If you put some rocks in your pocket so you’re more massive are you going to run faster.  Of course not.  But you increased your mass?!  The key here is that your Force is going to remain constant, and thus the added Mass will cause a reduction in Acceleration.  And that is what adding worthless mass would do to Allyson Felix.  The key would be to increase force production “without” adding mass, thereby making acceleration the component that increases.  And this is Ross’ point and his methodologies.  If I give Kersee the benefit of the doubt, what he might have meant was that by increasing Felix’s lean mass, he will be able to increase her force disproportionately to her increase in mass thus increasing her acceleration.

Okay, back to Ross’ methodologies.  Ross references two pieces of literature as influential in his methodologies, Peter Weyand study “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements” and Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Power to the People  (which I’ll be reviewing on another blog soon — link to come).  He also uses the equations in Weyand’s study “High-speed running performance: a new approach to assessment and prediction” as the basis for his sprint workout planning.  In short, he’s a firm believer in Weyand findings that speed is all about how much force you apply to the ground.  Moreover, this “force” that Weyand discusses is “mass specific force”, which means they took the force measured on their treadmill and divided it by the subject mass.  So what does this mean in layman’s terms:  increase the force you can apply to the ground while sprinting without (or disproportionately) increasing your mass (weight) and you will run faster.  And that’s where Tsatsouline’s Power to the People comes in.  Tsatsouline’s book is all about getting stronger, which means more forceful, without getting bigger.  2 + 2 = 4.

Power to the People professes the deadlift (various versions) and the press (bench press being one).  It spells out the techniques for getting stronger without gaining mass, which is a steady diet of low reps of heavy weights.  Ross states he uses 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps as his basis for the deadlift and press, and he adds in a couple other lifts, like cleans and isometric abs with some plyometrics between sets and you’ve got his basic weight room schedule.

On the track, he prescribes a very unorthodox sprint workout, which is described in Timothy Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Body.  Ross prescribes workouts that include sprints that are never longer than 70m, with the average being 55m.  Rest between sprints is full recovery, specifically 5 minutes.  He does this for all sprinters, including 400m runners.   Even the late great Charlie Francis who legitimized short full speed workouts didn’t follow this “short” of a system.  Moreover, Ross follows Weyand equations in High-speed running performance: a new approach to assessment and prediction to determine target speeds for his athletes…and when that athlete can’t hit that target speed (which is 95% of his predicted max based on Weyland equations), then his day is over (quality over quantity).  I find this “95% or you’re done” to be a very interesting periodization/supercompensation concept (which I’ll discuss in futures posts, especially my experiences with Heart Rate Variability testing).  It would seem to be a self-regulating approach to fight over-training.

How beautiful this sounds.  I can drop my 400m time without repeat intervals of 500, 400, 300…  I can forget Clyde Hart’s famous 200m relays???  At least for the 400m and long hurdler, this sounds too good to be true.  And, I personally think it is.  The Weyand equation is not perfect.  If you put in Usain Bolt’s 100m and 200m times, it predicts a 400m of 38.5.  If you put in Usain’s best 400m time with is best 100m, it predicts a 200m of 20.2 (even when I try to adjust these times for flying starts, they still not didn’t come out reasonable).   I do believe Bolt could break the world record in the 400m, but I don’t think he could get there by never training longer than 70m and I don’t think it would be anywhere near 38.5.

I don’t know how Ross plans his workouts, microcycles, mesocycles…  Perhaps that is in his book…and perhaps I’ll write another review in the future.  But I do find it intriguing.  And I do agree with a lot of what he professes.

So, do I now think reading Seagrave (and Pfaff per my previous post) is a waste of your time.  Not hardly.  It makes more sense to me that both are correct.  That one key to sprinting is “greater ground force” and the other is applying that force with the correct vectors (aka, sprint technique).  The idiot test applies here — you can have a world class deadlift and still run slowly as molasses if you try to sprint heal-to-toe.  And you can have perfect sprint technique and run like a snail because you are can’t push against ground.

Categories: Coaching, Dorsiflexion, Sprinting | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of Loren Seagrave — not me (Barry Ross)

  1. Aaaah, but no one pushes against the ground while running!
    Within a few meters, runners bounce. The science is clear on that.
    Felix (and all phenomenal runners) have extraordinary rates of force delivery (700 lbs or more) during brief contact times (0.07s or less). It is innate to them
    All of the force application occurs prior to mid stance.
    Using the bouncing analogy, this is were the “ball” would deform.
    The “ball” will reform as the body passes over the grounded foot since no more force is being applied.

    The major components of running are rate of force delivery and speed decrements over time (how fast the runner slows down.)
    The cause of speed decrements is the abundance of the anaerobic fuel supply…it never runs out (yes, the science is rock solid on that).
    Speed decrements occur as soon as speed as peaked.

    The over-abundance of fuel causes the motor units within the muscles to shut down (think of it as a car leaving the east coast with a fuel hose that can reach to the west coast. The fuel is there but the spark plugs stop firing because of excessive usage).
    Larger, faster-firing motor units are recruited but each will have a shorter duration.
    Lifting heavier weights seems to be have a positive impact on recruitment.

    What we’ve discovered is that the short dictates the long when it comes to sprinting. Using the algorithm, when the T1 time (short duration trial run for the algorithm) improves, the T2 time (long duration trial run) also improves…without ever running the T2 in a workout.

    Because of that, we don’t need to have sprinters run longer distances. Neither does Kersee or Clyde.

  2. I hear what you’re saying about “not” pushing, but in the physic perspective we do actually “push”. We apply force, which in layman’s terms is pushing. Yes, EMG data says all of that “pushing” is done in .07 seconds (or less), and that it all happens before midstance. It is a reactive recruiting of muscles fibers, as you know (be it elastic properties of a muscle or actual recruitment is somewhat controversial…but in my opinion it doesn’t matter). So, perhaps “pushing” is a bad word, because it makes one thing of “consciously contracting the muscles to push an object”…and that’s the wrong way to think about it. But force application is “pushing” in the strictest physic sense and if we didn’t do that, we’d crumble to the ground.

    I’m still not convinced about “not running longer distances in practice.” I would argue that your spark plug analogy works against you here. We all know that the H+ is what’s shorting the spark plugs. Training the Clyde Hart way is all about training “tolerance” to the H+ being generated in our system. When you only have 200m to run, especially times around 20.0 seconds, you don’t have to worry about H+ — your energy system is almost exclusively CP (even perhaps to the 300m, just look at Bolt’s 300m time of 30.97). And thus, I agree, it seems you could do nothing but 55m-type training and create a world record time (one way to skin the cat). But for a sprint of 40+ seconds, you are taxing the lactic system and thus generating H+…and thus starting to short out your spark plugs. I’m sure that a high schooler can work on just 55m type sprints and increase their 400m all four years, but I don’t believe to get a world record you could do the same. The margin for improvement is too small, efficiencies too important.

    One more thing, Weyand suggested you could use his equations for up to 240 seconds. I disagree with this [Update: After more research, I now believe that Weyand is correct. See this post: https://sprint42.com/2012/07/13/weyand-was-right/ ], as I believe you do (you mentioned in an email that it could be applied to near the 800m). My 1993 decathlon is a perfect example of this (as is ever decathlon). The athlete runs the 100m, the 400m, and the 1500m. I’ve plugged in my own times and the curve does not predict the 1500m very closely. I wish it did!!! My times at that meet were 11.05 and 50.1, which predicts a 1500m of 229s (3:49) — which is of course insane for me. I ran 4:52!!! It predicts a 800m of 1:52, which is much more realistic. So, for shorter distances, the Weyand curve does seem to work and is useful for workout planning. I’ve been using it lately and indeed my time trials are very close to its predictions, except for the 400m, which was several seconds off…primarily because I believe I hadn’t done any H+ tolerance work.

    • Did you enter your meet times or your fly times? The ASR algorithm uses fly times. If you use your meet times (e.g. using blocks for sprints and standing start for mids), your attempt to use the ASR algorithm to predict times for other distances will be way off.

      • Hey Chris,

        For the numbers I quoted in my comment, I used meet times. But if I adjust to make them like-fly values (basic adjustment of just subtracting 1 second from each), then they are still pretty far off (much better though). Much further than the 97% accuracy that Weyand suggests (using fly times, Weyand’s equations puts me at 4:28…even assuming I run at a 3% slower speed, we are at 4:37). I’ve tried playing with fly times for that meet and I just can’t get near my 1500m time.

        Also, I’m not using the ASRspeed site. I’m using Weyand’s direct calculations.

        My point is that Weyand curve is not perfect. It does a great job of predicting times near the two trial times, but the curve starts to falter the further you get from the initial measurements. Barry says they have uses it for distance runners and I totally believe that…and I would expect the curve to fit nicely for distance runners if you’re time trials are distances like 400m and 1600m.

        Moreover, the nature of a 3% error in speed (not time) will make the curve less useful the further you are from your time trials. In my decathlon sample, I used a 100m and 400m to predict the 1500m. The center of my curve is at 4:28, but a 3% slower pace puts me at 11 seconds slower. I’m not sure how useful a 20+ second tolerance really is (and remember mine actual time was 24 second away from the predicted, which would mean a 48 second tolerance). [Update: Again, after more research, I now believe that Weyand is correct. See this post: https://sprint42.com/2012/07/13/weyand-was-right/ ]

        Don’t get me wrong. I use the curve myself! I think that tell you louder than words that I think his study is excellent.

  3. Weyand, et al:
    “Regardless of the mechanism, the metabolic basis for muscle force impairment and compensatory neuromuscular activity that we report here for one- and two-legged sprint cycling seems likely to be general and to operate similarly in both more and less fit subjects. We expect that the individual force thresholds at which these phenomena are triggered will simply vary directly with the aerobic power of the individual.

    Numerous investigators have suggested that there may be no single mechanism responsible for muscle fatigue. During complex tasks and longer-duration efforts the mechanisms inducing failure may differ from those we describe here. However, we believe the mechanism of muscle fatigue that we identify here explains why the duration-dependent decrements in force production that occur during sprint
    locomotion can be described so accurately in metabolic terms. During these and similar dynamic efforts, we suggest that common mechanisms of muscle fatigue are likely present at cellular, tissue, and systemic levels, although the specific mechanisms remain to be firmly established.

    We conclude that impaired muscular force production and compensatory neuromuscular activity during sprint locomotion are triggered by a reliance on anaerobic metabolism for force production.”

    The accuracy of the algorithm (~97%) is closer to 2 miles. Since we’ve been using the algorithm for more than 6 years, we’re quite sure of it’s accuracy… WHEN APPLIED CORRECTLY.

    Both my partner and I use the algorithm for distance runners as well as sprinters.
    Personally, I’ve used the algorithm to train several in the military. The program included both distance runs and/or rucksack training. In each case, they easily exceeded their goal.

    Clyde Hart’s workouts were excellent…for his time. Research is well beyond that.

    Obviously, you can decide to ignore any or all of the above.
    However, our sprinters do an average of 5 50 meter runs, 3x per week and 3 strength workouts.

  4. Pingback: I take it back…Weyand was right and Bolt can run 42.80 « Sprint 42

  5. Pingback: Barry Ross revisited « Sprint 42

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